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Upload 16 September 2012

Extracts from a diary:

by Simon Barber

Amelia, Lady Allworthy (neé Amelia Bourne-Phipps) & her friends
(educated adventuresses all, and warrior priestesses, some)
encounter the world after Songmark Academy -- beginning July 1937.

Storm Birds
by Simon Barber

Monday, August 2nd, 1937

   An alarming day, though one that started quietly enough. All four of us headed off after breakfast to shop for supplies for the next leg of our trip, and the morning was spent happily enough in marine and air chandlers getting Atlantic charts and minor supplies for the Storm Bird. Helen is grateful it is not like one of the Schneider Trophy entries that raced this year using the Lorraine high-pressure “Radium” engine which by all accounts “cracked spark plugs like popcorn”. Our aircraft has so many of them to care for, after all. Going with multi-engined designs has its benefits but one pays the price in maintenance – though when half way across an ocean we will not be begrudging the time spent on keeping the engines running smoothly.

    We were heading across a small park near the North End burying grounds carrying a bagged luncheon apiece, when two large canines in well-cut, conservative suits came walking towards us, talking earnestly to each other and not even glancing in our direction. From the look of them they might have been younger sons of one of Boston’s banking houses, though that bloodline was established when the acquisitions took place with cutlass rather than cheque books. Miss Cabot was walking ahead of us, with Maria a few yards behind. Helen and I had stopped for a minute to check we had securely packed the fresh fruit for our lunch. Suddenly my ears went up, as did Helen’s – and our tails fluffed out in sync as we spotted something very amiss.

    We had not forgotten those demonstrations back in January with that Russian gentleman showing how furs are snatched off the street. There was something awfully familiar about the setup ahead of us. Before I could do more than look that way, one of the canines had snapped his paw out of his sleeve like a magician with card tricks – but suddenly he had a chloroform pad that he clapped over Miss Cabot’s muzzle while his colleague hooked her hooves from under her!

    What happened next was something of a blur. Miss Cabot arched her back, falling away faster than anyone expected, to land on her shoulders – and let drive with both hooves like a steam-hammer up into the right-hand canine’s solar plexus. Maria was there a second later – and despite trying a judo move we recognised from class, the other canine went down. In three seconds she had him on his back with his hands pinned behind him, and her knee pressed against his trachea – ready and willing to drop her full weight down on him at an instant’s notice.

    Helen was shouting for help to a young police-fur terrier she saw at the edge of the park – one might have expected him to come running, but he stood there twirling his club as if watching a rounders game. Having a police-whistle of her own, Helen blew it deafeningly loudly as she came up to Maria and Miss Cabot.

    Although Miss Cabot is a far milder person than the doe we knew, she has forgotten nothing of our training and can be quite as rough as the situation requires. The canine with the chloroform pad would not be using it on anyone for awhile with both shoulders dislocated. She had pulled his sleeves back as an improvised strait-jacket by the time I came up to help – and noticing the police-fur was still standing there fifty yards away.

    Neither of our assailants were saying anything, despite one of them being in imminent danger of Maria dropping her full weight on his windpipe. Turning out their pockets I noticed the labels of the clothing had been removed, which is always a sinister sign; I relieved them of an automatic pistol apiece, finding absolutely nothing else on them, not even a bus ticket or set of keys.

    We were rather wondering what to do next, when a more decisive guardian of the Law turned up – a grizzled, somewhat stout boar with a Sergeant’s uniform and an inherited Irish accent. He demanded exactly what was going on, with pistol drawn – luckily two passers-by had seen it all and could tell him without being suspected of their own involvement. He yelled furiously at the watching police-fur who at last came over, looking with shock at the two canines on the ground. Addressing him as Junior Patrolman Krupke, the Sergeant was… most unhappy with him. I think the paint on the park benches somewhat blistered at what he said.

    Oh dear. According to Junior Patrolman Krupke, he was on patrol when our two attackers introduced themselves as G-men, showing them their badges and warrants (I had found no such things on them). Mightily impressing him, they “requested” that he stand out of the way while they took a notorious gangster in for questioning. Seeing us rather wipe the floor with them must have been rather a shock, and having been asked to stay well clear no matter what happened, he could not even go to help them.

    By this time some more of Boston’s uniformed finest had arrived, and under the direction of Sergeant O’Hanlan took our statements and handcuffed our still mute assailants to “take ‘em downtown and sweat ‘em.” Tipping his hat to us, he apologised on behalf of the City of Boston and assured us the full weight of the law would come down on the two canines – emphasising it as he tapped his billy-club. As they left, I could hear him in low tones promising the unfortunate Junior Patrolman that he was bound for the backstreet beats of Gnu York on the first transfer out, and prophesying he would still be out in the rain pounding the beat in twenty years time – providing “some hood doesn’t ventilate ya first”. I hope we have not spoiled that young terrier’s helpful disposition.

    All this time I felt like an aircraft lit up by a searchlight – someone was definitely watching us, but there must be thousands of people around within binocular range. On an empty moorland Helen and I could track them down like artillery sound-ranging an enemy battery, but in the middle of a city we only know someone is taking an unhealthy interest in us. Someone with more talents than walk-past snatches with chloroform.

    Whatever else happens, one has to eat. We had our luncheon on the spot, before the fruit and sandwiches were squashed with any more unarmed combat. At the end of it, Miss Cabot produced from her sleeve a pair of FBI badges that she had palmed before any of us noticed – without those, I expect those G-men are in for a bad afternoon falling downstairs on the way to the cells. This will not endear us to the rest of their organisation, I fear. Still, if they have a warrant they really think would stick, it would have been us being marched off by Sergeant O’Hanlan and his patrol with full official support. Someone watching us is presumably reporting to whoever is in charge right now.

    A quick “Chinese Parliament” followed on the park bench as we talked over our next step. Maria was all for cutting our stay short, now we have the maps for the rest of the coast, and heading straight out. I can see her point, but argued we always knew this was a risk and running now would cut Miss Cabot off from her new family and her most promising future. Miss Cabot agreed – pointing out that this is not Vostok, and even federal agencies need to have proof before they can act. Once in Mr Hoover’s paws, she is sure he would be able to “find” some proof. It is lucky the local police were there to assist; from what Molly used to tell me, they resent having anyone Federal telling them what to do in their own city and relations are somewhat strained at times.

    Helen thinks the two who tried to snatch us might have been a test – G-men do not usually go out like that, without backup. Mr Hoover could surely have spared another half dozen Agents to make sure of the job, if he really wants Molly Procyk that badly. Had they managed to bring her in that would have been “so much gravy” as she quaintly put it.

    Back to the Cabot household, not disturbing Miss Cabot’s grandmother with news of our encounter. We told her we had been shopping, seeing the sights and had taken some healthy exercise – all of which are exactly true. There was a letter awaiting us, air-mail from Spontoon, which was far more disturbing. We had given Saimmi our address and probable arrival time here, but never expected to hear from her.

    Dear Diary: it is an awful coincidence that our troubles today were aimed at Molly Procyk, the doe who no longer exists – our friend was destroyed in Kuo Han, her very being wiped out like a blanked slate that the Dark Priestesses re-wrote with the Miss Cabot we have today. I took no pleasure in taking vengeance, only making very sure that Dark Priestess would not do it, or anything else, ever again – and not two stones of that temple were left standing together. We mourned Molly, but she is gone. Nothing of what made her Molly survived Kuo Han.

    At least, that is what we thought. It is all we could have thought. Saimmi’s letter floored us; she tells a story we could not have believed from anyone else. More than a year ago, when Molly and I caught that awful Pacific Marsh Typhus and nearly died of it, we were nursed by the Priestess Oharu. It was long before I learned that, as Oharu loved Molly and Molly hated her for it. In our illness, Oharu used all her powers to take something like a snapshot of the doe’s spirit – fearing that if she died, she would have nothing left of her love. This would have been no use without a body – and the doe’s body already had Miss Cabot in it, like a transplanted plant putting out new roots in it. Oharu has told us she is totally opposed to killing – that is one reason I suppose why Saimmi re-introduced Warrior Priestesses.

    We all remember that snow leopard girl who was rescued from Captain Granite’s ship – she was presumably Chinese by her species, but after what had been done to her, there was nothing but a feral animal there. Molly called her Megan, in want of any other name, and the last time I saw her she had settled in as a resident “jungle girl” being looked after by the Spontoonies on Main Island.

    There the matter might have rested. But Saimmi had “read the fires” for her and seen that her body could not survive for long like that. She had an empty body, and the Priestess Oharu had an image of Molly’s personality like a pressing of a key mirrored in wax ready for casting. They needed Miss Cabot’s memory and everything else to copy – and before we left Spontoon, that was done.

    This, Saimmi says, has never been done before – and just as many attempts to fly across the Atlantic ended in tragedy, it was too much to hope that everything would go to plan first time. Putting a doe spirit into a leopard body is like trying to swap unrelated aircraft engines and hoping all the fittings and the pipework somehow line up – with the best engineers in the world improvising the connections, they will not. To make it worse (from Molly’s point of view) the snow leopard body had already had her… preferences changed by Captain Granite, and made permanent. That was Molly’s ultimate nightmare, that she had been a night or two away from it happening to her.

    Saimmi tells us that the good news is, Molly Procyk is alive again, with her skills and memories, and a new face that the G-men will never recognise. The bad news is – the shock was too much for her mind to withstand. Waking up in a new body – and in particular in that body – drove her violently insane. Saimmi says she would have taken less shock if the body had been male, though she believes the transfer would have been even more difficult than it was, to a brain different in both sex and species. Molly has stolen an aircraft and left Spontoon, and is somewhere out in the world.

    We put down the letter and nobody said anything for ten minutes. Miss Cabot shrugged, and quietly pointed out it was just one more fur who was after her. Whatever Mr Hoover has on his charge sheets, I doubt it includes the theft of a living body from its rightful owner.

    (Later) At supper, Mrs Cabot noticed we seemed suddenly rather pensive, and asked if there was any bad news in the letter. Her granddaughter took some time to reply – and her answer, that it was unexpected news we all needed to think on, was (I thought) very well put.

    Tomorrow night, Mrs Cabot says, there is a social gathering with her neighbours, which we are all invited to. She wants to introduce her granddaughter to her friends and relations – which is all very right and proper. One hopes there are no G-men on the guest list!


Tuesday, August 3rd, 1937

   A less dramatic day, though only the arrival of Mr Wells’ Martians could have made it more dramatic than yesterday. The rain poured down, putting the damper on our plans to take the Storm Bird on a trial spin with Mrs Teresa Cabot onboard. I phoned up Miss Jenks’ hotel, and found that like us she was looking at the rain outside. Luncheon seemed a very good idea, so at eleven we fired up the Packard and headed a few miles across town, Helen driving.

    Although on Spontoon they drive on the proper side of the road as a legacy of their “plantation years”, it does feel strange to be driving on the other side. Maria explained that Napoleon enforced his Continental system on all the areas he conquered, and naturally Britain as the only free country escaped. (She is very proud of Napoleon, one of Italy’s finest sons, she says. I recall her having long arguments with Madeleine X on the subject of Corsica being rightfully Italian.) Presumably the Americans changed over in emulation at their admiration of all things Revolutionary; cocked hats and guillotines especially.

    Miss Jenks is staying at the Harvard House, one of the hotels near that famous University that mostly caters for respectable academics and researchers. Some of the researchers look a little battle-worn, but they may be archaeologists fresh from the field having spent the Summer dodging tomb traps and such. She has taken a room on the top floor, with her brothers just down the corridor, and a fine view out over the leafy Harvard campus. They are leaving on Friday, heading on the Northern route via Newfoundland and Iceland as they planned.

    It occurred to us all at about the same instant that we could do very well travelling together. It is Summer and we are all experienced aviatrixes but still, it is the Arctic and North Atlantic, and two aircraft are safer than one. So we shook paws on it – Friday morning to leave Boston, stopping at Bangor in Maine and Saint John’s, Newfoundland before the really ambitious leg of the journey. She phoned up Room Service and we soberly toasted the trip with a bottle apiece of Pensa-Cola, the Florida flying-boat pilots’ favourite.

    Miss Jenks has been spending her time with some friends of the family (not the Lowells – despite the old rhyme, there are other old families in Boston) and looking over their business interests. They have a paw in theatres, and are moving into the movie business. Not everything is done in Hollywood even now. Gnu York had a very flourishing movie industry before Hollywood was ever heard of, but it was harder to film Cowboy films outdoors in January in Gnu York State than one can in Southern California. Helen and Molly have always quibbled about that, and cited a lot of the “Wild West” being in high plateau and mountain terrain where there is an awful lot of snow on the ground in Winter – the Hollywood Western apparently being more a product of Hollywood than the actual West.

    Interestingly, today I heard for the first time how Gnu York received its name. When the first “Euros” crossed the Atlantic, their geography was a little over-ambitious and most believed they had already reached some part of India. The Native furs include many striking-looking bison, which was not a species the mapmakers had seen before – but travellers’ accounts had vaguely described Gnus as an Indian and African species, which is exactly what they were expecting to find. So, putting two and two together they made an elementary mistake and assumed these were Gnu too. Only later did furs press on round the continent and discover it was a whole New World, if not a Gnu one. By that time they had already put the erroneous names on the map.

    Certainly, we seem to be in demand. Miss Jenks had mentioned us to her friends the Pendletons, who are having a party tomorrow night and she passed on an invite for us all. What with the Cabots, the Pendletons and Mister Hoover, everyone seems to want to meet us in Boston!

    (Later) An afternoon of relaxing and preparing for the evening’s social soiree. We are glad we packed the dresses we bought at Madame Rachorska’s in Spontoon; at any rate they are light and pack down to very little. Silk folds down very well without much creasing, and looks fine against well-brushed fur. A light afternoon tea was served at five, and by eight we had assembled at the bottom of the grand staircase, giving each other a final checking over.

    Personally I thought it rather silly to take the Packard for a quarter of a mile on a fine Summer evening when we could have walked it in six minutes, but the Cabots subscribe to local ideas on style. I concede that it might possibly rain in a few hours’ time and that would not be good for the party dresses – but besides, it was a Bostonian party and theirs were the rules. Maria whispered that on Knob Hill one hardly goes to the expense of having a chauffeur and walking or, far worse, taking the bus.

    Well! We were early arrivals at eight thirty, in a quite palatial town-house on the far side of the hill facing the sunset. Looking at the fine costumes and elegant folk, I was quite reminded of those four genteel Pennington girls and their unfortunate family – before reminding myself that to them the entire crowd were “Damnyankees” they would not be seen dead with, by long-standing inherited tradition. We were greeted by the badger hostess, a Mrs Van Heugens ‘of the Arkham Van Heugens’, whose family tradition around here “far preceded the general European settling of the State” by her account. It was quite a gathering indeed – whether this is the famous ‘bon ton’ I could hardly say, but the general style and number looked about right.

    Before sweeping off to see to the newer arrivals, our hostess introduced us to some of her other prominent guests. There is quite a gathering of the “corridors of power” here – we met two senators, a retired General and the owner of the main racehorse breeding operation in the North-East. Ironically one of the Senators was equine himself, representing Providence in Rhode Island we met the famous anthropomorphologist and folklore expert, Mr. Howard Lovecraft. His works are very well-known, and most libraries have them in the non-fiction section although there is dispute over whether to put them in Ancient History, Religion or Cryptozoology.

    Certainly, some very different people get elected around here. Mr. Lovecraft looked quite the image of the classical New Englander with his long squareish face, genteel manners and having indeed a pedigree that is respected even here on Knob Hill. Quite the opposite is Miss Elizabeth Boop, a very lively dark-haired poodle girl with a marked Gnu York accent, who started her career on the stage and screen before the Hays Code stamped down hard on the style of film she preferred to make. And now she is a Senator – one of these days, Helen says, actors will end up becoming Presidents. I think she is reaching rather too far on that one.

    It was certainly interesting to spend an evening in such company – the last time I recall “Lady Allworthy” being in elegant surroundings like these was Macao, in a hired ballroom full of international arms dealers, shady businessmen and executive level smugglers who have risen past the ranks where one gets blood on one’s fur. Instead we have Washington senators, respectable Generals and descendants of Steel Barons and Lumber Barons whose careers Beryl would admiringly quote courtesy of her Saint T’s economics classes. Hmm.

    The evening was certainly a busy one, being introduced as “Lady Allworthy, the celebrated Adventuress and Aviatrix” – though that may have been our hostess inflating the little she has heard of me from Mrs. Cabot. I may have had some interesting adventures but most of them I would not like to see discussed in detail in the Boston Herald.

    Apparently I am not the only one who sees life outside Knob Hill. Senator Lovecraft was discussing expeditions he is trying to get Government support for – apparently some local University has been making all the big discoveries of late. Unlike Father Coughlin, he really does have solid documented photographic evidence of some of the more interesting social and religious movements one presumably does not see taking part in parades. He was far too much of a gentleman to point at Senator Boop (who is of the other party) but did hint at certain… strange ancestry of some of the East Coast dwellers who cannot claim better pedigrees from traditional Euro stock. True, Miss Boop does have the most extraordinary head shape; one wonders where she gets her hats made. Her eyes are the biggest we have seen since we were taught by that batrachian Priestess Gha’ta from near Ponape, though I did not mention her to either Senator.

    Listening to Senator Lovecraft I was reminded of something I had spotted on the air charts of this part of the coast. Most of America has bland names like Big Rock or Jonesville (and I hear most cities have a “Hooverville” around the edges constructed in elegant modern cubist cardboard) but around here are names like the Pocquamatus River or the Minhorapata Junction; more Tillamook sounding than anything I have seen further West. Evidently the founding sires of this region arrived back when they used to listen to the Native furs and were not ashamed to ask what a river was called.

    Thinking of traditions, Miss Cabot may not have been brought up here, but she showed rather well as the adopted granddaughter of the Cabot family. Her grandmother explained that she had been “chosen by poor Elizabeth to carry her name” without going into any inconvenient details of why Captain Granite was not too interested in getting an heir in a more conventional way. I had been trying for years to instil some good manners into Molly, and all that is still in her head for Miss Cabot to use – which unlike Molly, she chose to.

    All in all, a fascinating social soiree! From what I heard of one of the other guests whisper, they were all half-expecting Senator Boop to kick off her shoes and dance on the tables – something she was famous for doing, being a most lively entertainer before she went into politics. I recall Helen quoting her campaign goals – “what this country is in need of is a lot of hi-de-hay! Boop-de-doop, and chocolate ice-cream!” I am sure a lot of displaced “Oakies” living by the roadside on potato soup would have voted for that. How much was delivered is another matter, but Miss Boop is not President yet.

    Although Maria and I seem to be classed as exotic foreigners one might expect anything of, as country-furs Helen and Miss Cabot spent most of their evening surrounded by the younger daughters of Knob Hill, who had a thousand questions to ask about our lives out on Spontoon. From what I could hear, Knob Hill mostly sends its daughters to Finishing School, and practicalities seem not to be in fashion. One excessively frilly poodle girl was asking how on earth we managed without a beautician at Songmark. Her own finishing school employs one per class.

    It is probably unfair of me to imagine her carrying a knapsack full of bricks on one of our routes through the Main Island jungle, field-testing if shoulder-deep mud and leeches are respectively a beauty and slimming aid, while Miss Devinski wears out her third megaphone of the year chivvying her along. Very few people have our advantages – though I wonder just how that first-year white Persian feline coped with the experience. Being a British short-hair has its advantages.

    Back after midnight, having sampled three glasses of a rather fine and genuinely French white wine that certainly cost somewhat more than the pineapple brews of Casino Island. But then, if anywhere around here can afford it after the Depression, I expect it is Knob Hill.


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